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Shelves upon shelves of spices (Image: Richard Schmitz)

Bucks spices it up at downtown Olympia apothecary

What’s for dinner? Is it a new Moroccan dish you're trying out, slowly simmering over the stove, or an old stand-by noodle entree needing some new life? Whatever you cook, it's the addition of herbs and spices which bring each food to their fullest flavor.

Oh, snap! The recipe you are drooling over on Pinterest calls for a Tandoori Masala but your home spice cupboard is fresh out. Don’t fret! Buck’s Spices and Gourmet Pantry in downtown Olympia can help.

The tiny storefront of this apothecary may look reminiscent of a store found in Diagon Alley straight out of the Harry Potter series, but inside the store’s shelves are a treasure trove and sensory paradise for local and worldly flavors.

Still looking for that Masala? No problem. Are you creating a vegan brunch and can’t find Indian Black Salt, or Kala Namak, to add to the tofu scramble? You know, the one that tastes vaguely like eggs? Again, not a problem. These exotic spices along with hundreds of others line the shelves of this herbal shop.

Housed in the same location on Fifth Avenue for the last five decades, Buck’s Spices has transformed itself several times over the years. Originally a tea room back in the late 1960’s started by Anne Buck, it has also encompassed a garden supply store, a dog biscuit bakery, and a parcel drop-off business.

“Buck’s landed as the spice apothecary it is today sometime in the early ‘80’s”, explains Scott Smith, or his professional name, Scotty Sounds. Smith took over running the store about three years ago after Buck stepped down. She continued to come into the store every day until she passed away in October 2019, at the age of 94. Currently, her son Beau Buck sees to the business, working to continue his mother’s vision.

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Anne Buck was a pioneer, an entrepreneur, and a renegade. She loved her community and listened to their requests.

“Everything in here, in the store, was once a customer request,” says Smith. Her legacy lives on inside this spice shop. Knowing the importance of organically sourced foods the “spice baristas," as they are aptly named, work diligently to bring organic, indigenous, and consciously sourced spices into the shop. They can also concoct an herbal or spicy blend for you to pair with any gourmet dish.

“We offer a lot of interesting, unique, and international spices,” says Smith. “Tell us what you are cooking and we will spice it for you.”

Today, the doors to Bucks on Fifth Avenue are open from 2-6 p.m. Wednesday - Friday and 11:00 am - 5:00 pm Saturdays. Stroll in and check out the shelves upon shelves of culinary flavors, it will undoubtedly transport you to other parts of the world. But, if getting to Olympia is out of the question, no sweat! Buck’s Spices and Gourmet Pantry has an extensive and detailed spice list on their website complete with each spice’s history. There are recipe suggestions too!

The future for Buck’s means continued growth and expansion. The spice team has been developing various spice blends, ready to add to stir-fry veggies or on a summer Barbecue, creating instant and flavorful meals. The team is currently taking these bundles of spices to local farmers markets, reaching their core base at a grassroots level. Just how it all began when Anne Buck first opened her tea room. She saw a need in the community and set to work filling that niche.

The spice team can be found at the Olympia Farmers Market, Tacoma, and Tumwater Farmers Markets, or visit their website to order online.

“Good food can be inspiring, healthy, inclusive, and fun,” says Smith, “especially when you spice it up.”